Solutions journalism

08. The P.R.A.T.I.C. method /

P.R.A.T.I.C. is both an acronym and a reminder. If you tick all the boxes you’ll be doing good SoJo.

Solutions Journalism differs from many other journalistic genres due to its holistic approach. It’s total journalism.

  • Because SoJo lets many different voices be heard, whether they’re readers, doers, or decision-makers.
  • Because SoJo can be deployed in different formats: reports, investigations, interviews, series, even the practical presentation of a service message.
  • Because SoJo goes beyond just the news: its aim is to bring meaning to news coverage, and it can influence individual decisions such as public strategy.
  • Because SoJo never stops. It is not a journalistic format compressed into a unit of time, place, or action. SoJo has limits but no end. That’s probably why a series is the format that suits it best.

To tackle such an ambitious undertaking, this writer has developed a comprehensive method to tick and fill in all the boxes. P.R.A.T.I.C stands for….

What is the Problem?

What are the Responses?

How to Act

With what Talents?

For what Impact?

With what Continuity?

What is the Problem?

The basic requirement if we are to write a solution-oriented article is that a problem exists which justifies it. In the broadest sense, a problem may simply be a need.

In theory, every journalist knows how to report on problems: a coastline affected by erosion, young women being assaulted on public transport, teenagers who are bullied at school, poachers threatening the survival of a species, the spread of an incurable illness, etc.

A need may be less sensational, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inconsequential: for example, increasing the schooling rate of girls, or supplying electricity to remote areas.

With SoJo, problems are never concealed, but on the contrary are reported, dissected, and analysed by recounting the facts, explaining the causes, discussing the consequences, and always by answering the 5 Ws… Before moving on to “So What?”

What are the Responses?

While the problem is essential for good SoJo, solutions must be the focus of investigation. That’s right, ‘Responses’ is plural. Because even faced with the same problem, different solutions may have been used in different contexts and places or at different times: the COVID-19 pandemic has familiarised us with ‘fractal’ approaches, e.g., contact case management in Vietnam, hard lockdown in China, traceability using applications in Korea, banking on herd immunity in Sweden, an early mask-wearing strategy in central Europe, etc.

For the responses to be valid, let’s revise a few SoJo basics:

  • Solutions must first have been field tested in real life, not just in a laboratory or in the minds of brilliant thinkers.
  • Solutions are neither advocacy nor advertorials: we also need to explore their limitations.
  • A solution is the angle behind an article, the crux of the SoJo investigation. It’s not a story about the person who created it, or about its beneficiaries’ experience(s). The whole solution, nothing but the solution, and only the solution: its origin, purpose, impact, and – above all – how to put it into practice.

This brings us to the A of P.R.A.T.I.C.

How to Act

For a solution to be useful and sustainable it must also be reproducible. And if it is to be disseminated it must be explained in a very educational way. The P.R.A.T.I.C. method is also about practical help, tutorials, service. It is not enough to show that in some cases cloth masks can be used instead of surgical masks; you have to explain how they can be made if they are not readily available.

With a SoJo investigation, most questions start with ‘How?’:

  • How do you do it?
  • How did you find the money?
  • How did you convince the right person?
  • How does it work?
  • How do you teach this method?


With what Talents?

SoJo is a mirror, not a showcase. We are not here to shine a spotlight on stars, superheroes, or saints. Superman or St Joan of Arc are not reproducible. On the contrary, SoJo focuses on ordinary people who make an extraordinary impact.

To be reproducible, the skills needed to put the solution into practice must be commonplace. To make cloth masks, we simply need needleworkers, not fashion designers.

The know-how required must be easily accessible. Stacking sandbags or planting grass and vetiver to combat torrential flooding is something that (almost) everybody can do.

As for the tools, they must also be readily available: sewing machine, 3D printer, etc. An invention is not a solution if it’s only at prototype phase.

For what Impact?

A solution is only valid if it is effective. We have already seen that a project, concept, or idea are not responses. In SoJo terms they are rough drafts.

Even if the solution has already been implemented, its results still need to be measured. To do that we need to access the figures, look at achievements, interview experts, beneficiaries, witnesses, etc … as well as critics.

In other words we need proof … and limits!

Lastly, we also need to ensure that the impact is not useful solely to those who developed the solution, but also to the whole of society.

With what Continuity?

As they say at Nice Matin, a pioneer of solutions journalism in France, “the right to follow up is a journalist’s duty”. Often overlooked by the conventional approach of traditional journalism, where one news item quickly follows another, the right to follow up is – on the contrary – the ultimate linch-pin of solutions journalism.

After investigation and publication, we should continue to cover the subject, report on its progress, check with the authorities whether decisions have been taken.

It could almost be said that SoJo is a never-ending story. A story that can…

  • start with an investigation to expose a scandal,
  • continue by describing solutions,
  • carry on with reports of concrete actions,
  • persist even longer with a review of these actions.
  • And even generate new and unexpected problems for which solutions will also have to be found!

But this continuity sometimes requires venturing off the beaten path of old-school journalism. To do that, the audience needs to be engaged right from the initial choice of subject until the results are reported on, rallying NGOs and civil society to maximise the impact of the publication, calling on politicians to obtain effective measures, in other words to prepare a ‘shock wave’ that will continue to have repercussions and keep the momentum going…

SoJo is a synergy in which journalists are not the only protagonists.

Something to think about

  • The outline of an article won’t necessarily follow the P.R.A.T.I.C. method. It’s not always relevant to start a SoJo story with the problem. A report about the solution can sometimes be the most effective place to start. So, can you visualise your “plan of attack”?
  • Of course there are other ways of putting SoJo into practice. You can draw inspiration from the very detailed techniques of the Solution Journalism Network’s learning lab (in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, etc).

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

Logos CFI et France Médias Monde